Well here we are again, and we are still in the first half of the month of May. The annual Broncos Blue & Orange game has come and gone. Fans were able to somewhat satisfy their cravings for Bronco football by receiving a teaser of what their team will look like come kickoff on September 4th. Although fun and exciting for the Bronco faithful, the annual spring scrimmage will remain just that over the next five months: a teaser.
Now is the time where the diehards and perpetually impatient fans will pass the time by Google-searching the outlook for the season (in a rather obsessive manner for some). All in hopes that they will discover major analysts, media pundits, and sports bloggers offering up their wisdom for what the next season will bring.
At this time last year, Google would turn up pieces with a focus primarily on the shocking and devastating departure of beloved coach Chris Petersen to the University of Washington. Although hard to admit, plenty of people were having a hard time imagining what Bronco football could look like without Coach Pete. Far too many questions existed that created an overwhelming feeling of insecurity across the Treasure Valley.
Thankfully, we all know how those worries and doubts materialized in the end. The circumstances surrounding the team heading into this year are completely disparate of last year's. New Head Coach Bryan Harsin proved himself to be a worthy successor of Petersen in his first season, 17 of last year's starters are returning (including the entire offensive line) and the Broncos also brought in what is considered by many to be the top recruiting class in the Mountain West.
One major question that exists for this team will be who starts under center. The Broncos were able to reel in a consensus four-star recruit in Brett Rypien. Rypien was a star out of Spokane, Washington's Shadle Park High school. He garnered many accolades including Washington State Player of the Year by the Seattle Times and Tacoma News Tribune. He turned down scholarship offers from Washington State, Washington, Arizona State, Mississippi State and Oregon State.
Ryan Finley is considered by most to be the favorite to replace Grant Hedrick at quarterback in 2015. However, Finley was recently arrested and faces a possible suspension. This could open the door for Rypien as he graduated high school early and enrolled at Boise State for the Spring 2015 semester. Rypien has a good chance of following in the footsteps of Bronco legend Kellen Moore. Moore redshirted his freshman year and wound up having a stellar career. It will be interesting to see if the same occurs with Rypien.
The next five months will involve taking this element and many others and trying to make sense of what they will all coalesce as. The area where it always seems to start in the case of the Broncos is that dreadful word, the schedule. It will be a constant point of discussion throughout 2015. It's not the first time for Boise State and one can rest assured that it will not be the last.
Although the BCS is six feet deep now, the College Football Playoff Committee (CFPC) will still demand that the Broncos not only win, but win big if they want to claim a spot in the four-team playoff. This predicament demands that we review the Broncos' schedule once more. Is there enough there that will supply the Broncos with another chance to land one of the New Year's Six bowls?
Even further, could they find themselves with a strong case to snatch up a spot in the four-team playoff? We'll examine the top three games that will carry the heaviest weight in determining what the Broncos will look like in the eyes of the playoff committee.
Mark Your Calendars
September 12, 2015
Boise State @ BYU
Preview: BYU suffered a rather unfair amount of injuries last year. Taysom Hill went down with a season-ending leg injury. He is currently still working his way back to 100 percent. When healthy, Hill has the skill set to force his name into the Heisman conversation. If healthy, he and running back Jamaal Williams (who is also returning from injury) should do enough to make this game competitive. Grant Hedrick was successful in picking apart the Cougar secondary last year for 410 yards and four touchdowns.
This game will hinge primarily on whether or not the Bronco offense has the firepower to replicate Hedrick's performance.
How the Broncos Win: Rypien (we are projecting he does end up as the starter over Ryan Finley) shows poise in his first career road game by torching the secondary of BYU. The offense makes this possible by opening up the passing game with Ajayi-successor Jeremy McNichols. A solid defense behind them leads to a 42-20 victory.
How the Cougars Win: Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams lead a well-balanced attack. The key to victory for BYU will be their ability to hold on to the ball and tire the Boise State defense with long drives. In doing so, they will produce a 27-21 upset victory.
October 17, 2015
Boise State @ Utah State
Preview: This could prove to be one of the toughest road games of the year for the Broncos. Many consider Utah State the favorite to dethrone Boise State as Mountain West champions. Big reasons include Utah State fielding a stellar defense that features star outside linebacker Nick Vigil. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Vigil was second in the country with five forced fumbles last season.
He also took carries at running back on occasion and scored three touchdowns. He could conceivably have his name mentioned in the same sentence as NFL superstar JJ Watt. The defense as a whole was phenomenal at preventing any big plays (ranking in the top 10 for IsoPPP+), something the Broncos made a living off of last year.
The Broncos may need to focus their game on short screen passes and power runs. They will also need to find a way to make Vigil irrelevant.
How the Broncos Win: The Broncos are able to use their short screen passes to perfection, chewing up 5-10 yards at a time. Being content with small ball and moving the offense methodically down the field, the Broncos win 42-30.
How the Aggies Win: The Utah State offense does just enough while the defense prevents the Broncos from finding any sort of rhythm offensively. If the Aggies can prevent any run game from solidifying, they will ride their home crowd to a 25-21 victory.
September 4, 2015
Washington @ Boise State
Preview: This game will be vitally important to the Broncos as this will be played before the greater free world on ESPN to kickoff the College Football season. Any time that they are brought into the limelight of prime time television, they will need to deliver an almost flawless performance. Executing a clean and convincing victory against the Huskies could get the Broncos in the minds of the CFPC immediately.
This is also only one of two games that the Broncos have scheduled against a team from a Power 5 conference in 2015. The other will be against a rather mediocre Virginia team that won't garner nearly as much as hype and importance as this game against the Huskies.
Despite the technical importance of this game, there is also an emotional element that will be present as coach Chris Petersen makes his first trip back to Boise, only this time he will be standing on the west side of the blue turf wearing purple. A media circus should ensue.
The game itself will prove to be interesting. The Huskies have a plethora of personnel issues that will need resolve in the coming months. The quarterback position is up for grabs between Jeff Lindquist, K.J. Carta-Samuels and Jake Browning. Top defensive performers from last season Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson and Hau'oli Kikaha are gone and will need to be replaced.
The Husky secondary was also ranked toward the bottom of the Pac-12 last year and needs to improve. Seeing as this is the first game of the season, this is not the time or place for the Huskies to work out its kinks.
How the Broncos Win: Even with a new quarterback, the Broncos are too good at home, boasting the nation's highest winning percentage (.958) since 2000. Whether it be Finley or Rypien under center, the Huskies lost a lot of talent to the NFL on a team that just went 8-6. Broncos win 38-17.
How the Huskies Win: The growing pains of a new quarterback show for the Broncos, as well as not having Jay Ajayi in the backfield for the first time. This may be worked out later on in the season, but at least for tonight it proves to be the Achilles heel for BSU and Coach Pete finds a way to steal a 30-27 victory, shocking the city of Boise.
Honorable Mentions: There are two other games that need at least a passing breath here.
October 10 - Boise State @ Colorado State: Colorado State may be tasked in replacing recently drafted quarterback Garrett Grayson, but the Rams are returning a trio of highly-talented wide receivers, including All-American Rashard Higgins. Add in the fact that this game will happen in Fort Collins and you've got a Rams team that has a real shot at taking down the Broncos.
September 18 - Idaho State @ Boise State: Do I think the Broncos have a chance at losing this game? No. However, Idaho State was no slouch in the FCS last season. One of the most efficient passing teams in the country to go along with returning running back Xavier Finney who was 11th in the country with 1,495 rushing yards last season at the FCS level.
Add in the inner-state rivalry and the Broncos will need to display a healthy reverence to this team as they will be expected to win big. Failing to execute a big win could damage the Broncos.
Making Sense of it All
It is at this point that Boise State fans find the biggest struggle: possessing a healthy dose of optimism, but also realizing the need to compound said optimism with reality. This can be best achieved by pinpointing the relevant variables that will be present for the season and creating a best case/worst case scenario. This allows everyone to have their sights set on the all the good that is possible, while inversely recognizing what could go utterly wrong.
Best Case Scenario: Something requires clarification right now before moving forward: Uncle Rico has a better shot at landing an NFL contract today than the Broncos do of securing a spot in the four-team playoff in 2015. This can and will be debated heavily, especially if the Broncos run the table in a convincing manner. However, the realist in me doesn't have a lot of faith in a CFPC that left out a substantially talented TCU team last year (Gary Patterson could not be reached for comment).
The playoff needs to be expanded to at least six teams before Boise State has any real shot of making it. That whole concept is for another time and place. In the here-and-now though, this is no reason to not look forward to another season of Bronco football.
The schedule may not be as tough as many Bronco fans would like (ranked 86th in the FBS for schedule strength heading into 2015), but as we saw last year the Broncos can still land a highly-coveted bowl game with two losses on their resume. The Broncos carry at least three potential losses on their schedule this year in Utah State, Washington and BYU (with honorable mention Colorado State).
The over-arching theme to ensure success will be Harsin getting immediate production out of his quarterback and running back positions. Other factors will be pertinent to the specific game, but having success in these two places will be foundational. With all the returning starters, Harsin and company have plenty of talent and experience to work with that provides them with the real opportunity to run the table.
In reality though, because of quarterback and running back inexperience, the Broncos are looking at going another respectable 10-2 in a best case scenario. I see both of those losses coming on the road to Utah State and BYU by the slimmest of margins. Despite the two losses, the Broncos will find themselves in the Mountain West Championship for a second year in a row where I see them winning against San Diego State.This will solidify their resume earning them a second straight trip to the Vizio Fiesta Bowl, which they manage to win again.
Worst Case Scenario: As previously stated, getting immediate production from the quarterback and running back positions will prove vital. On the contrary, not getting production from these positions will be the downfall of the team for 2015. The Broncos have tough road games against Utah State, Colorado State and BYU where quarterback inexperience will be eaten alive.
Add that inexperience to the first game of the season against Washington and the Broncos could wind up 8-4. Many people here in Boise may be calling for my head after saying that the Broncos face a potential four loss season. But despite returning 17 of 22 starters from last year and having a good receiving corps, losing the production of Ajayi and Hedrick is a major blow and needs to be replaced immediately. Failure to do so will result in an absence from one of the New Year's Six.
It's a good thing that worst case scenario is worst case scenario. The brains of Harsin and his entourage are too smart to let such a circumstance become reality. So Boise State fans, continue to wear that optimism proudly. Many continue to doubt, but the Broncos keep producing.
This has allowed us all to witness greatness for more than a decade's time now. Thankfully the outlook of another season on the blue leaves us with reason to believe that greatness won't end any time soon.